When Life is Dark and Heaven is Quiet

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God’s people have always had to wrestle with the things from the dark.  As believers, the Bible tells us that we are in a permanent state of war against Satan.

There has never been an armistice or treaty signed to my knowledge.  Each one of us is on the front lines.  The devil has been practicing with a deadly form of “spiritual terrorism.”  And he terrorizes many with his posturing and manipulation.

Life can get quite dark, and desperately bleak. No one needs to educate us about the dark nightmare that is come.

Over a couple of millennia, God’s covenant people have been harmed and harassed.  Enemies are constantly manipulating and twisting God’s Word. As disciples, we’re under steady surveillance by the dragon.

“And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil.”

John 3:19, NLT

And he certainly has not overlooked us.  As we read our Bible, our faith becomes like Teflon.  Nothing can stick to you; even though so much is thrown at us.  When life is really dark or terribly bleak, we can protect ourselves and others.

There are times when we can sense nothing. Sometimes heaven is silent. But I believe, it is never, ever disinterested.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,”

We are not theologians, we are just simple disciples.  He knows this.  I believe He simplifies things in order to help us understand. God has little reason to complicate things for us.

I believe that we are “surrounded” by saints of all ages.  They see in us a faith that justifies us.  And I must admit, that helps me.  I am part of a continuum.  I now know that my simple faith must always pass the test of discouragement.

But now the torch is passed, and now you must run with it faithfully and honestly.  And when all is so dark, and things seem far too quiet, I still intend to hold up that torch and carry it all the way to my Father’s house.

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“There was a castle called Doubting Castle, the owner whereof was Giant Despair.”

John Bunyan, “Pilgrims Progress”

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Like Stars, Forever

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“The wise people will shine like the brightness of the sky. Those who teach others to live right will shine like stars forever and ever.”

Daniel 12:3, NCV

“So our faces are not covered. They show the bright glory of the Lord, as the Lord’s Spirit makes us more and more like our glorious Lord.”

2 Corinthians 3:18, CEV

In my teenage years, my mom and I attended a series of services in a Christian commune.  (This would’ve been in 1972 -73.)  They all lived in a single house and had started a Christian rock and roll band. And they knew how to pray.

I was impressed with what I saw.  When they gathered together for worship, they began to ‘glow’.  I would stare at them and they became ‘illuminated.’ I had never seen anything like this before.  The presence of Jesus was there making Himself known in the hearts of His disciples. I had been given eyes to see the supernatural.

Since then I have heard many testimonies of that same dynamic at work.  Confessing believers engaged in prayer and worship, have their countenance changed while in the Lord’s presence.  Peace and joy and confidence affects them in a profound way.  Their physical appearance is altered, and they proclaim ‘a peace that passes understanding’ that can’t be explained in any other way.

Since I became a Christian in 1982, I have retained those images in my thinking.  I’m now very aware of the “witnessing presence’ of Jesus in the lives of His people.  And scripture itself, on several occasions, points to this wonderful dynamic in action in the lives of consecrated believers.

When the light comes, it can’t help but transform those of us in darkness.  Our faces, hearts, and countenances change. We’re the human vessels for peace and joy (especially knowing our sins are forgiven).

The prophet Daniel talks about ‘shining like a star’.  This isn’t possible in the mechanics of normal life as an unbeliever (at least for any real length of time).  That simply can’t be manufactured.  The only possible answer is the Christian’s faith.  Namely, that Jesus Christ who is indwelling every believer, reflects His presence out into a dark world.

A few winters ago I was out walking on the Alaska Bible Institute campus.  Twilight was settling in and 20-30 yards ahead I saw a child’s sled left in a snow pile.  In the monochromatic world of an Alaskan winter, the ‘shining’ sled glowed and couldn’t be missed.

You and I who bear His presence are to be fluorescent.  His activity in our hearts is to make us astonishingly conspicuous.  We can’t hide His presence (even with sin) We have been irrevocably changed by the Spirit’s residence.  We have become ‘glow-in-the-dark’.

Perhaps this is how it works?

You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden.

Matthew 5:14

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A Grace That Overwhelms Me

“To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God’s grace means.”

― Brennan Manning

Perhaps there are a few things we need to more fully grasp. There is a real and definite, ‘life of grace.’ And it’s a whole lot more than a polished niceness or an agreeable congeniality.  It is Grace, and when you do connect with it, it’s like touching a bare wire. The first time— don’t be surprised if it throws across the room– figuratively speaking.

There is a special perception of grace.  We must locate it and then live off its fatness. One of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott wrote,

“I do not understand the mystery of grace –” only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us.”

After just several sentences of writing this post, I simply come to this same place.  I know precisely what grace is (but I can’t tell you.) I would like to, very very much. It simply is beyond a definition, and yet, I can tell you it is real. When you reach out and grab it, you suddenly realize that you have been ‘taken apart,’ and then reassembled in a changed way.

Manning talks about “acknowledging my whole life story.” There are very dark times, times when we promoted and revelled in our personal evil. I can tell you of many things in my own behavior that would curl your hair, or demand justice be done.

But the ‘light-part’ needs to be recognized.  It does exist. But unquestionably I have done much more evil than good. On my knees recently, I’ve realized I have committed more sin as a believer— than I ever did in my darkness, before Christ. I was completely overwhelmed.

As I get familiar with my evil, it really schools me. It drops me into God’s classroom of grace. He tutors me, over and over. I learn of mercy, and grace, love and kindness. All which can only be decrypted by one simple word, “undeserved.” If you know that single word, heaven itself will open up like a golden sardine can.

But all of it pivots on grace.  Grace was the total reason it all happened like it did.

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” 2 Corinthians 8:9, ESV

“You are familiar with the generosity of our Master, Jesus Christ. Rich as he was, he gave it all away for us—in one stroke he became poor and we became rich.”  The Message

One more thing: Sometimes we need a dramatic change in our perception of the truth. What I mean is this. When we accept Jesus as our Savior, we’re often drawn to more systematic and theological specifics. We want to read all about—

  • End Times,
  • the Trinity,
  • the doctrine of healing/tongues,
  • the proper formula to speak at baptism,
  • women in ministry, and the like.

This is all well and good. We need to understand the fundamentals. Doctrine is important.

But just maybe what we really should do is think about—

  • forgiveness,
  • kindness,
  • servanthood,
  • faithfulness,
  • evangelism,
  • prayer

We often make small things big, and big things small.  We really should understand the ‘density’ of things spiritual. Let’s put our discipleship into perspective. To study something out isn’t the same as seeking God’s face, and grace.

Grace is one of those things for us; it is quite “amazing.” In it is such beauty and perfection— men could never, ever dream it up. It’s like an ocean where a child can splash, and yet it’s depths are still unfathomed and unexplored. God’s grace, in its truest sense, is eternally profound.

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What’s the Role of God’s Word in the Fight Against Depression?

SPIRITUAL BROMIDE OR FUEL FOR THE SOUL?

Years ago, in a public venue, I extolled the value of wielding God’s Word as a weapon against depression. Before I finished my comments, a listener blurted out, “That’s oversimplification of a complex condition! You think you can cure depression by flinging a Bible verse at it? That’s totally unrealistic.”

If he had allowed me to finish, he would have heard my comment in its larger context.

When I tout God’s Word as a weapon against depression, I’m not saying that depression suddenly evaporates when I read the Bible or ponder a verse I’ve memorized. I’m not saying that having regular devotions in the Bible will forestall the onset of depressive episodes. I’m not advocating the neglect of medical or psychological treatment, nor other resources of the Spirit, such as fellowship and prayer. But I am saying that anchoring myself in God’s Word is nonetheless integral to my endurance. In particular, the promises of Scripture keep me from giving up and yielding to the despair.

In Future Grace, John Piper emphasizes that “wherever despondency comes from, Satan paints with a lie. The lie says, ‘You will never be happy again. You will never be strong again. You will never have vigor and determination again. Your life will never again be purposeful. There is no morning after this night. No joy after weeping. All is gathering gloom, darker and darker.’”

When I’m bombarded with a similar message of hopelessness, I buttress my faith with verses that combat Satan’s lies, such as these words from Psalm 30:5: “Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Another buoyant promise that keeps me from drowning in discouragement is Nahum 1:7: “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in Him.”

No matter how I’m feeling, I strive to cling to a right view of God, as depicted in these words from Isaiah 30:18: “The Lord longs to be gracious to you; He rises to show you compassion.”

I can’t prevent an onset of despondency by memorizing Scripture, but I can shorten its stay and minimize its effects by focusing on God: Who He is, what He has done for me, and what He has pledged Himself to do.

The author of Psalm 73:26 also fought despair by riveting his attention on truth about God. He acknowledged weakness and despondency with these words: “My flesh and my heart may fail.” But he refused to yield to discouragement. He battled back by telling himself, “But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

An occasional effect of depression in relation to my work is the inability to feel God’s presence as I prepare for and teach classes at Columbia International University. That’s when I lock my mental lens on Isaiah 41:10: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Like the Psalmist, I “preach to myself,” or engage in biblical self-talk. I remind myself that He is with me whether or not I feel His presence. I tell myself that God’s Word, which promises His presence, is far more reliable than my fickle feelings that question His presence.

When I go to Scripture, does the depression magically evaporate? No, yet I work with renewed confidence and vigor, and take the next step rather than yielding to despair.

I don’t give in to the urge to cancel classes or quit because I don’t feel God’s presence. I wield God’s Word because no matter what causes my depression, I still have a spiritual battle to fight. Will I believe the hopeless message that permeates my mind when I’m depressed or will I believe what God says that puts my current despair in the context of eternity and His character?

When has the Lord sustained you through His written Word?

your brother,

Terry

Terry teaches in the areas of Church Ministry and Ministry Leadership at Columbia International University in South Carolina. He has served as a Christian Education staff member for three  churches, and he’s a licensed preacher in the Presbyterian Church of America.  His current books in print are Serve Strong:  Biblical Encouragement to Sustain God’s Servants, and  Now That’s Good A Question!  How To Lead Quality Bible Discussions. Terry has been married for 46 years, and has two sons, a daughter-in-law, one grandson, and a dachshund.  His constant prayer is, “Lord, make me half the man my dog thinks I am!”

Check out his blog at https://penetratingthedarkness.com/. His ministry is focused on Christians experiencing clinical  depression and other mental issues.